James Taylor - A Great Birkenhead Engineer

James Taylor, a Scot, was, without question, true father of the British steam crane. His works first traded as - "James Taylor and Co" - in 1852, at 89, Cathcart Street, Birkenhead. In 1861 this became - "James Taylor & Co., Engineers & Boiler Makers". Then circa 1870 - "James Taylor & Co., The Britannia Works, Birkenhead".

Mr. Taylor's background was in steam quarry cranes of the fixed pole type made in Scotland circa 1839, perhaps the first ever of the type. He then build winch-based cranes on quays from about 1842. It is believed he moved to Birkenhead about 1850. In December 1853 he filed an important patent - No. 3004 for - "Certain improvements in raising and lowering weights".

This covered the first use of reversing-link steam-gear in cranes, and relegation of heavy flywheels - which last are dangerous in any crane with low-speed engines. By eliminating stop/start dog-clutch reversal, and being extremely compact, this was ideal for ships winches, and perfect for cranes. Then in 1859, Mr. Taylor made the machine below - the first, "properly-commercial" 4-motion steam rail-mounted crane in the World. As perfect in conception and execution in 1859 as almost-identical machines still being made 100 years later !

Taylor's 1859 machine The First 4-motion rail-mounted steam crane in history: Copyright; The Engineer

James Taylor next built a series of larger travelling cranes. These, along with those of Appleby Brothers of London, showed the World how it should be done. His 1867 4-powered-motion machine below has all essential characteristics (other than live race) of a travelling and slewing machine : (1) a forward-mounted hoist drum (2) a top mounted worm-controlled luffing drum (3) a substantial, extended superstructure (4) a rear over-hanging boiler to counterweight load (5) a bogie carriage (essential for many later cranes)(6) No flywheel other than disc cranks.

Taylor's 1867 bogie-type crane -another first : Copyright; The Engineer .

James Taylor was also very important in respect of large cranes. In 1875, he build the world's-largest sheerlegs for Portsmouth - 140 feet tall; test load 120 tons - and was early leader in large steam-crab gantry cranes. In 1876 he build the first large iron-structured rectangular-type Blocksetting crane for Ceylon (putting aside a smaller iron-made machine made by Stothert & Pitt for Karachi in 1867)

From 1869 to about 1885 he made the large fixed slewing cranes which provided the only heavy-lifting power at main ports from Britain to Australia, Japan and Peru. Among features first used by him in large steam cranes were the full-circle, three-part, live slewing race, and the rolled, tapered and riveted jib - the exact means of constructing same at the time remains a mystery today. About 1887 Taylor's substantial and important firm at Birkenhead literally disappeared overnight. Unfortunately for the Industrial Historian, remnant archives amount to almost zero.

The last of James Taylor's important heavy port cranes is fortunately preserved at Hull. Copyright: G.Robinson, courtesy ABP Hull

Source Above : © Bruce Ward, Historian, Historical Crane Society 2012

The following published articles and items of relevance have been compiled from contemporary sources.

© 2012 all rights reserved, Jane Campbell

Obituary : Mr. James TAYLOR, engineer, 1817 - 1894.

Britannia Works, Birkenhead

From, Birkenhead News, Saturday, September 15th 1894

The late Mr James Taylor

A pioneer in engineering.

It is with feelings of deep regret that we announce the death of Mr James Taylor, engineer, Hamilton Square, which took on Wednesday morning at his residence, Westbourne Grove, West Kirby. During the course of his long life Mr Taylor was intimately connected to Birkenhead. His former place of business being the Britannia Iron Works, Cleveland St, attained a world wide celebrity. Few men have brought forth so many brilliant ideas in relation to practical mechanics, though, like many other great inventors he failed to make a fortune.

Mr Taylor's family was a very old one, his family was easily traced back over 500yrs. Originally they came from Polmont, Stirlingshire. His Grandfather was a burgess of Glasgow, and made the first iron plough ever used in Scotland. His father was established in a business himself as a jobbing blacksmith, a trade at the time much more important and extensive in its ramifications than it is now. Mr James Taylor was born in May 1817 in Glasgow, he was sent to school early and began blowing the bellows at the age of 13 years. He soon began making small steam engines, turning lathes and other better class of machinery. He learnt mechanical drawing from an Architects clerk, which enabled him to make designs for contractors and others. His first crane was for building a circular tank for a gas holder, 100ft diameter, which turned upon a pivot but travelled upon a ring of rails laid on the bottom, which led to the simplification of a swing lifting derrick, supported by guys.

In 1839 he was asked to consider the question of applying steam for raising blocks of stone 10tons in weight from the bottom of quarries, which was readily accomplished in the form of a derrick crane, and he made them for many of the leading quarry proprietors around Glasgow.

Having been invited to join a friend in the management of a foundry in Chester he went there, but soon thereafter joined the establishment of Messer's Fox Henderson and Co, of the London Works, Birmingham. His connection with this notable firm of railway engineers came about in a remarkable way. A railway bridge over the Rundee had excited his attention and he pointed out to the authorities a weak place in its construction, marked the spot with chalk and prophesied that before long there would be a catastrophe if it was not strengthened. His remarks do not seem to be heeded for soon after the bridge collapsed and Mr Henderson was called in to examine it. Ascertaining who had chalked off the fracture place, he at once offered Mr Taylor an important post in the great works with which he was connected. Mr Taylor was in Birmingham for about five years and was engaged in the construction of many of the most important railway stations in the kingdom.

Superintending the iron work of the old Tithebarn St Station was his first engagement in Liverpool. In 1852 he came to Birkenhead and established the Britannia Works, from whence so many of his famous steam cranes were sent out for a period of over 30 years. His inventions and improvements were such to ensure the increased utility of such appliances, and at the present time cranes of his construction are at work in Australia, China, Japan, India, and almost every British Port.

The following is a list of some of the patents taken out by him, in part carried out and others left to themselves:-

A steam pile-driver in about 1840, the double steam cylinder winch, having link reversing motion, now so extensively used on board ship and extended to cranes of all forms, and also coal pit hoisting machinery, in 1852, a marine floating dock, in 1854, a traction road engine, made to give out its power to both sides of the machine, whether working on a straight line or making complete circles either way, in about 1858, the application of the double twin screw ferry boat on the Mersey had its origins through him, 1868, patent J and JMH Taylor, Birkenhead improvements in the method of propelling vessels, about 1877, a double twin screw moorless dredger, and other apparatus there with having reference to the removal of the Mersey Bar, 1883, a ship's windlass worked by flexible steel wire rope in place of chain cables, about 1881, steam bitts as used on board the Columbier on the Clyde, and other steam ships about 1882.

Before his practical retirement from active business Mr Taylor was one of the most respected men in Birkenhead and was for many years a member of the old of commissionaires and was twice elected chairman of the board. He did excellent work for the town while chairman of the Ferry Committee and his dearest hobby was the twin screw system. Of this he was a most ardent advocate and frequently expressed his views in theses columns. Long before twin screws were adopted by any firm he strongly advocated their safety, utility, and speed as superior to any other means of propulsion. Other improvements in gangways, luggage carrying boats and other matters were instituted by Mr Taylor to whose incentive genius Birkenhead owes a great deal more than is ever acknowledged, or perhaps ever suspected.

The establishment of the Birkenhead School of Art by the late Mr John Laird was another movement in which he took a leading part, and his advocacy of technical instruction of a really practical character was far in advance of his time, and even ahead of modern schemes, as far as its practical utility was concerned. He contended continually for increased advantages in this way, and urged that the late Mr John Laird really founded the School of Art, as much, if not more, for manual than for the art tuition which actually monopolised the building and the funds for many years.

For many years Mr Taylor was closely identified with the religious life of the town. He was an Elder at the Conway St, Presbyterian Chapel, and during the last 5 years he held a similar office at the Presbyterian Church at West Kirby. He was one of the oldest Sunday School teachers in the United Kingdom having been engaged in the work for over 60 years. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of foreign missions, and a few years ago he cast a beautiful bell, and sent it out to the Rev Dr Paton, on of his oldest friends, for use in the mission at Aniwa, which that intrepid missionary established there. Five years ago he took up his residence at West Kirby, where he died peacefully and suddenly at 3am on Wednesday. Though he was in failing health he went to church on Sunday morning and was several times on Monday and Tuesday. An additional pathos is added to his death by reason of the fact that his wife and daughter were called to Bournemouth to attend sick relatives on Tuesday.

Personally Mr TAYLOR was regarded with esteem amounting almost generally to affection, and his loss will be sincerely mourned by many. The funeral will take place this afternoon at Flaybrick Hill cemetery.

Notes: Mr Taylor was elected as a Commissioner for Birkenhead from 1864-1878 Part of his works had been taken over about 1878 by his nephew James Taylor Cochran of Cochran & Co, who built in company of Rev Garrett in 1879 the famous "Resurgam" - world's second mechanically propelled submarine. In the obituary in 1893, of Mr. Joseph Bourne, Sandown, Isle of Wight , resident engineer and general manager and locomotive superintendent of the Isle of Wight, Railway, it states between 1877 and 1883 he was lessee of the Britannia Works, Birkenhead and carried on the business of the extinct firm of Messrs James Taylor and Co, he could have been lessee of the Iron and Brass Foundry which James Taylor advertised to be let in 1884 [see below]. The firm continued until 1889, in the late 1880's William Taylor [son of James Taylor] was the manager of The Britannia Works which had been established for 36 years [see below] His son James Mathew Henry Taylor in 1886-1887, [ Steel sailing yacht of 20 tons, to be built by Mr. JMH Taylor of the Britannia Works, Birkenhead for A. Marshall, Esq]

The Railway Supplies Journal, published on September 24th 1892, in the course of an article on "Mr James Taylor's steam cranes, winches etc."

The engineering achievements of the ancients have been for many generations the wonder of the world, mainly perhaps because it is so difficult to understand how, with the appliances at their command the transport and elevation of such enormous weights could be accomplished. We do not, of course, know very accurately what those appliances were, but so far as we understand, they had nothing corresponding to our modern hoisting machinery, Indeed, such machinery was generally reckoned amongst the triumphs of quite latter-day invention. Something in the way of steam cranes and derricks has certainly long been known, but is only in the memory of many now living that these wonderful machines have been made, by which weights of 100 to 150tons are easily lifted and moved from place to place. It is still true that these great wonders of the world are the achievements of our engineers. But we at once recognise that without our modern lifting machinery these would be impossible and even where other devices might be retorted to each machinery has greatly economised labour and facilitates pendactions. It is impossible in fact to exaggerate the debt we owe to those whose genius has been devoted to this branch of mechanical invention, and certain it is that whatever might have been done in ancient times, we should in these days be industrially partially paralysed, if deprived of our powerful steam and hydraulic lifting machinery.

Amongst those to whom our debt is largely due must be named, Mr James Taylor of Hamilton Square, Birkenhead, Cheshire, probably no one else has had more experience in connection with steam and hydraulic lifting machinery

From the Birkenhead News, Saturday, September 22nd 1894

The funeral of the late James Taylor, formerly proprietor of the Britannia Iron Works, Birkenhead, who died on Wednesday week at his residence West Kirby, in his 78th year took place on Saturday at Flaybrick Hill Cemetery. Mr Taylor had lived in retirement for the past few years, his firm owing to the vicissitudes of trade having now been closed for some four to five years, but there was a large gathering at the cemetery of old friends and those he had associated in public and other relationships.


Messers J. M. H. Taylor and William Taylor [sons], Alderman Walker, Messers John Walker, William Glover, J. Fraser, T. Main. W. Bell, R. Hatterick, J. Ashworth, V. Waterhouse, Alexander Stewart, W. Hain, J. W. Robinson, R. Holdsworth [Liverpool], G. Bell, W. Bingham J.P, A. Tulpie, R. MacIver, J. Niven, F. J. Croft, W. Cooke, R. Jones, G. H. Jones, T. Roberts [West Kirby], Frederick Pooley, C. C. F. Todd, J. Dunlop, R. Galloway, Alexander Milligan, J. C. Forrest, J. W. Pickering, W. Paterson, James Smith, Andrew Callender, C. Bond, E. Roberts, G. C. Scott, B. Haram, W. Haines, James Robinson, R. Shone, , G. Morecambe, James Holme, John Robinson, A. Turpin [Wallasey Gas Works], George Jones, C. Nichol, Dr Harrison and the Rev J. Fraser. The Rev P. M. Kirkland [West Kirby] officiated at the graveside.

Hamilton Square, Birkenhead

Dockyard economy and naval power, Patrick Barry 1863

Britannia Engine Works

Situated in the immediate vicinity of the great float, a short distance from the 60 ton crane and graving docks, and directly opposite the new chain test works, in a line with Duke St. The railway passes through the works, being an extension from the London and North Western and Great Western Companies goods stations, branching off on the margin of the docks and float, and affording facilities for goods traffic to all parts of the kingdom. The works was commenced by Mr James Taylor under the firm of James Taylor and Co, in 1852 in Cathcart St, when several large iron structures were built for Australia, engine and boiler work being the principal feature in the establishment. The present workshops cover an area of two and a half acres, one-third of which is taken up by an iron and brass foundry, and the remaining portion the engineers and boilermakers departments, consisting of turning, erecting, and smiths shops and boiler yard with offices. The works are adapted for a large class of engineering and boiler work, but hitherto have been devoted to the manufacture of steam machinery for hoisting purposes with double engines, for which a patent was taken out by Mr Taylor, the proprietor of the works, in 1852, and since which they have been introduced into most of her Majesty's dockyards, where they are extensively used as labour-saving machines, into many private yards both at home and abroad, as well as yards of foreign governments. They are also well adapted for carrying on the manufacture of marine engine and boiler work, having extensive and commodious sheds for the latter, fitted up with overhead travellers running the full extent of the shops, and other powerful appliances requisite for carrying on work of the heaviest class.

Map Birkenhead, showing Britannia Engine Works

From the Cheshire Observer, Feb 24th, 1855

Taylor's Steam Winch for ships and steamers

The necessity which is felt, especially in busy seaports, for the more rapid accomplishment of the loading and unloading of vessels, has suggested to several clever engineers the idea of applying steam for that purpose, and many steam engines have been produced, but decidedly the best one we have seen is one patented by Messers Taylor and Co, of the Britannia Works, Birkenhead, being neither too cumbrous or expensive for practical use. Messers Taylor have also applied the same principle to a crane which they have patented, and several very large ones constructed by them are in use at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Those who have used the winch, however, are best capable of speaking of its merits, and as the subject is one of the greatest importance to ship owners we subjoin an extract from a testimonial which has been received by the patentees.

Mr Lamont, the agent for the Princess Royal, writes :- "For the discharging and loading of cargoes, particularly in large vessels with much depth of hold, or in coasting vessels carrying heavy cargoes, there is decidedly a great saving, and the same amount of work is done in a least one half the time than by manual labour, for instance it used to take nine hours to discharge a full cargo of the Princess Royal by manual labour, requiring eight men at each winch the same is now done in four hours. The cost of coke, fuel for the small boiler supplying steam for the winches at both hatches, is as near as possible sixpence per hour. The winches are also most useful for warping the vessel in and out of dock. No large steamer should be without them."

From the Standard, October 21st, 1857

Hoisting by steam

Several successful trials have just been made at Birkenhead of a portable hoisting apparatus, constructed and patented by Messers James Taylor and Co of the Britannia Iron Works, Birkenhead. The apparatus mainly consists of Taylor's patent doubly cylinder to the working of two barrels, which are made to revolve either separately or together, or as the case may be, the management being so simplified that they are brought under the control of one man. The whole of this apparatus is bolted down upon a truck mounted on six low train wheels, with sheer legs erected in front, provided in the usual way. Its capabilities are various, it is adapted to the warehousing of goods, discharging or loading of cargoes, ship building, stacking timber, pile driving and numerous other important purposes. It is already in operation in some of the principal parts of the kingdom. The apparatus tested this week is to be used in the formation of the large jetty or pier at Pisca, for the Peruvian government, it has been supplied by Messers James Taylor and Co, through the eminent civil engineer Edwards Woods Esq of London, who with several gentlemen and practical engineers was present during the trials. The pier will rest upon Mitchell's patent screw piles, and extend 2250 feet into the sea. The steam hoist will do the principal part of the heavy work, and will avoid the necessity of sending out from this country labourers at great expense. One man will do all that is required at the machine itself, and the working cost for fuel will not exceed the consumption of more than 4to5cwt of coal per day, while the arrangement is so simple that it can be at once regulated by the hand for working light lifts with a quick motion, or heavy weights slowly up to 25 tons. This course will necessitate the use of block chains. The steam hoists have been introduced by the Admiralty into her Majesty's dockyards and other places, and the authorities are much pleased with their utility.

From the Liverpool Mercury, Nov 11th, 1857

Discharging cargo by steam

The Douglas Packet Company, having experienced much difficulty in procuring men to discharge cargo from their vessels, being in consequence subjected to delays have availed themselves of the facilities afforded by means of steam power, and imported Messers Taylor and Co's patent steam hoist, from the Britannia Works, Birkenhead. The engine is of about 6hp, portable and very compact. Its great utility was displayed on Monday and Tuesday, when it was used for the first time, discharging cargo from the Queen and Tynwald.

Liverpool Chronicle, May 11th, 1861, Chatham, on Thursday preparations were commenced at Chatham dockyard for building the temporary dam which is to be placed at the entrance of No 2 dock, in order that additional space may be obtained for the building of the large mail-clad steamer Achillies 40. The steam travelling-cranes which are in the course of erection along the side of the dock by Messers James Taylor and Co, Britannia Works, Birkenhead, will be completed in a few weeks. These machines are of the most powerful description, and capable of lifting the heaviest portion of the iron work which will be used in the construction of the new frigate.

From The Builder, July 18, 1860

Steam Elephant, one of Taylor's patent traction engines built at the Britannia Works, Birkenhead for the Dutch Government, for use in the docks of Flushing, when tested drew a load of 14 tons 13 cwt, going up and down hill, turning corners etc with ease.

From the Liverpool Chronicle Jan, 1861

Steam Engine for common roads

Messers James Taylor and Co, of the Britannia Works, Birkenhead, have just completed their improved Patent Traction Engine for the use on common roads. It is manufactured of steel-plates for lightness, the large wheels are 7ft in diameter, and the small ones 5ft, and are made broad so as not to injure the roads, the entire weight when supplied with 18 cwt of coal, and one and a quarter ton of water is 8 tons. The Elephant is hung on springs to prevent jerking, has an apparatus which does away with the usual noise from the steam-pipe, and is provided with hoisting tackle for loading and unloading. The engine can do the work of 30 horses, speed 6 mph, and with a load of 15 tons, two and a half miles. The Elephant is very light in appearance, the workmanship is unexceptionable, the engine has been much admired and commended by many engineers who have examined it. The trials it has undergone have been most satisfactory, and it has been proved to be admirably adapted for all descriptions of road, level and hilly. This is the fifth engine of this kind that has been constructed in this establishment. The first has been at work for two years and doing well. Differing from all other engines hitherto made, the traction of driving wheels go first, and the grinding wheels follow, it is easily steered round corners, with the nicest accuracy, rendering the whole under easy control.

From the Liverpool Chronicle, June, 1861

Generation of steam for engines by means of gas

A very interesting invention for applying steam generated by gas heat to engines has been tried at the Britannia Works, Birkenhead. The engine to which the apparatus was attached was one employed for hoisting purposes, and from the satisfactory results obtained, it bide fair to be generally adopted in warehouses with very great economy, and in other cases where small power is required, as it can be worked with peculiar advantages. The patentee is Mr Arthur Jackson of Liverpool.

From the Liverpool Mercury, Jan 24th, 1862

On Wednesday a heavy boiler was successfully removed from the works of Messers John Laird and Sons, and Co, Birkenhead, to the large shed, situate on the margin of the Great Float by means of Taylor's Britannia Works steam traction engine. "Steam Elephant" This is the first instance in this neighbourhood in which steam on common roads has been employed for such purpose. Another was conveyed on Friday. Judging from the easy manner the machine was guided over the roads, it promises to become a most useful agent for transporting heavy loads, from discharging timber from ships and afterwards drawing it up the quay or from place to place as required. One of these engines manufactured by Messers J. Taylor and Co has been at work for this purpose in her Majesty's Dockyard Devonport, for upwards of two years with great success.

From the Morning Post, July 3rd 1862

Chatham, July 2nd, The Admiralty having ordered that the Royal Oak, armour-plated frigate to No 3 dock in this yard, to be completed as soon as she is launched from No 7 slip, where she is now under construction. It has been advised to construct a tramway on each side of the dock, upon which are to be placed two steam-travelling cranes for lifting the ponderous slabs of iron into the position they are to occupy upon the sides of the vessel. This matter has been placed in the hands of Messers James Taylor and Co, Britannia Works, Birkenhead, whose workmen are now fixing the tramway, and the cranes have been landed at the jetty today from the screw-steamer William France of Goole. These machines have been constructed specially for the Government, upon Messers James Taylor and Co,s patented principle. They are of immense strength, each having a lift of 10 tons, and worked by engines of 7hp. It is expected they will be fixed upon the tramway in about six weeks.

From the Liverpool Mercury, Sept 10th, 1863

The Manchester and Liverpool Agricultural Society exhibition

Although the exhibition commenced on Tuesday with a preliminary show of implements and the various descriptions of machinery, the exhibition in its entirety was not thrown open to the public until yesterday. When we mention that in the various classes there were no less than 3150 entries. The agricultural implement department presented a very interesting field of investigation, not to those engaged in the cultivation of the soil alone, but to mechanics in general, since it comprised of many beautiful specimens of machinery not immediately connected with agriculture. Where ever practicable these were put in motion, and the rattle of cog-wheels and the roar of drums and the discordant noises produced by the various agricultural machines combined to give this department the aspect of a vast workshop, where works of every conceivable kind were being carried on.

Amongst the machinery, none attracted more attention or was more admired for its compactness than Taylor's improved portable compound engines, having vertical cylinders enclosed, and boiler with return tubes, all mounted upon a water tank, which forms a base for the entire structure, and altogether stands in little space. The boiler is made of steel, and has been proved to a pressure of 150 lbs to the square inch. Only one cylinder is connected directly with the boiler, the second cylinder receiving the steam from the other. This engine is driving a Lloyd's fan, for the purpose of illustrating a novel mode of raising grain from one elevation to another, and which at the same time cleanses and thoroughly ventilates the grain while in transit from one position to another. The plan is Mr Lyster's engineer to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, and promises to be a useful invention. This is the second experiment of its kind in the country, the first was tried at an elevation of 14 feet, this is about 35 feet, and will send the grain to a greater height. It is intended to apply this mode for removing grain from the hold of ships direct on to the quay or into the warehouse or granary, it is worthy the attention of the corn trade. The invention can be seen at work on the premises of the makers, Messers James Taylor and Co, Britannia Engine Works, Birkenhead.

Paris Exhibition, July 1867

Exhibited, Four steam cranes, one with two square wooden jibs converging at the top by Russell of Glasgow, one with plate iron double T, jib about four times broader at the bottom than the top, by Appleby Brothers of London, one by Shanks and Sons to lift 6 tons with two converging jibs of timber, and one by James Taylor and Co, of Birkenhead, with iron jib like that of Appleby's, but four or five times broader at the bottom than the top. Which did such excellent service in unloading British goods up yo the opening, here they will remain till their services are required at the closing of the Exhibition.

Liverpool Mercury, August 24, 1869

Launch of a screw-steamer at Seacombe, built for Messers McAndrew and Co, Gongora, intended to trade between this port and Spain, fitted with engines winches and windlass manufactured by Messers Taylor and Co, Britannia Works, Birkenhead, who will also fit engines in two similar steamers for Messers Bowdler, Chaffer and Co. October 13th, trial trip of the Gongora, she had on board Mr Mc Andrew, Mr Bowdler, Mr James Taylor, Mr William Cook [superintendent engineer to Messers Taylor] and Mr George Hepburn of this town under whose superintendence the vessel and engines were constructed.

The Engineer Dec 1870, James Taylor and Co, Improved Direct-acting Steam Crane

January 3, 1870

Launch of a screw-steamer from the building yard of Messers Bowdler, Chaffer and Co, built for Messers McAndrew and Co, Vaar, intended to trade between this port and Spain, fitted with engines on the compound principle by Messers Taylor and Co, Britannia Engine Works, Birkenhead, Mr George Hepburn the engineer for the company superintended the building of the vessel

Powerful cranes constructed to lift 25 tons, to be erected alongside No 8 dock, Chatham dockyard extension, constructed by James Taylor and Co, Britannia Engine Works, have arrived in the yard

From the Liverpool Mercury, Dec 10th, 1873

A 70 ton steam crane constructed for the Greenock harbour trust and believed to be the most powerful in the country, was on Monday carefully tested. The crane raised weights of 81 and 91 tons, and the contractors Messers James Taylor and Co, Birkenhead, have expressed the opinion that it will be found capable of lifting 120 tons with safety.

January 1875, 50 ton crane at Yarra, Melbourne

A 50 ton crane its construction authorised by Mr Francis, at the instigation of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce and the merchants and ship owners of the city, is in the course of erection on the south side of the Yarra basin the contractor for the erection of the crane being Mr Foreman of the Yarra Boiler Works. The crane was made under contract by Messers James Taylor and Co of Birkenhead, at a price of £6,000, "This firm makes the construction of cranes a speciality, and has made engines of this kind for the Imperial Government with hoisting powers up to 90 tons, also for the ports of Glasgow, Greenock and Dundee etc" Several misfortunes happened to the parts of the crane after they had been made, fitted and shipped for the port. Some of it was lost in the Dunmail in the mouth of the Mersey. Another portion was on board the John Kerr when she put back dismasted on the same voyage she ended up in such a deplorable plight, her disasters greatly retarding the delivery of the portions of the crane entrusted to her. An important part of it was on board the ill-fated British Admiral and is now in deep water off the coast of King's Island. Mr Taylor was telegraphed, duplicates of the pieces lost were promptly "wired" for and Mr Taylor having a sister crane in hand at the time for the Clyde, borrowed portions of it and promptly sent them out. There was some delay and extra expense through the borrowed pieces having not been fitted, but workmen acting under the guidance of Mr Turpie sent out by Mr Taylor to superintend the erection of the crane, the work proceeded satisfactorily. The foundations having been commenced in January 1874 under contract to Mr Cornwell

From the Dundee Courier, August 03, 1875

Testing of the 70 ton crane in the harbour

On Thursday evening the 70 ton crane erected on the south quay of the Victoria Dock was subjected to a thorough testing. A quantity of rails weighing 77 tons was used for the purpose, first lifted, then carried round and deposited below the water in the dock, then raised again and placed on the quay, the testing was considered extremely satisfactory. The engines are James Taylor and Co, Britannia Engine Works, Birkenhead, who possess a high reputation as crane makers. The firm have also erected cranes at Leith, Hull, Victoria and other parts of the country. James Taylor senior partner in the firm and Mr Cunningham, harbour engineer were present at the testing operations and were highly satisfied with the results.

Liverpool Mercury, December 9, 1875

The Woodside steamer Birkenhead built in 1872 by Messers R and J Evans and Co, Liverpool and fitted with multitubular boilers by a Birmingham firm, which did not work satisfactorily after being used about 3 yrs were condemned as useless, has been supplied with two patent cylindrical multitubular boilers by Messers James Taylor and Co of the Britannia Works.

Taylor Steam Crane

From the Liverpool Mercury, May 30th, 1876

The Titan Machine

On Saturday last a huge machine, called the Titan, of somewhat novel construction, was tested at the Britannia Works, Birkenhead, where it has been constructed by Messers James Taylor and Co. This new machine has been made from the designs of Sir John COODE, C.E, for the purpose of laying concrete blocks of 32 tons each, to form a breakwater in the harbour of Colombo, Ceylon, the foundation stone of which was recently laid by the Prince of Wales. The length of the machine is 76 feet, and the block carriage will lay the blocks to an overhang of 36 feet, the back end of the girders being ballasted to upwards of 40 tons. The lifting machine is placed over the ballast tank. The machine is so arranged that the locomotives, with the trucks carrying the immense blocks, come under the machine itself, lifting the blocks, and carrying them forward and transversely by means of the block carriage, so as to form a roadway for the machine as far as the breakwater may be extended. The capabilities of this monster machine were tested to the entire satisfaction of the engineer to the crown agents for Ceylon, and other gentlemen of engineering skill.

A side elevation of the 1876 Rectangular Titan as used at Colombo. The seminal design of this machine was largely the result of James Taylor's and the Port Engineer's thinking, and was first to use the Hydraulic Brake. The Rectangular layout was not again used other for a large machine at Gijon, Spain, built by Appleby & Jessop in 1896. Drawing Source I.C.E., London : "The Engineer".

Unrest at the Britannia works, James Taylor chairman of the Ferry Committee, devotes a large portion of his time to the development of the ferry traffic.

From the Liverpool Mercury, Dec 4th, 1878

There are many able men in the borough both Liberal and Conservative, whose claims for an aldermanic seat far outweigh those of Mr Morris, for instance there is James Taylor late of the Britannia Works who has been a commissioner for 10 or 12 yrs, and chairman of the board 2 yrs in succession. He is now chairman of the Ferry Committee and devotes a large portion of his time to the development of the ferry traffic.

From the Liverpool Mercury Jan 1st, 1879

Liverpool and Birkenhead, Engineering trade, in accordance with a resolution passed on Thursday night, very large bodies of the operative engineers, others of the trade connected with shipbuilding, struck work yesterday in consequence of the threatened reduction of wages, the course of action on the part of the working men at this time greatly complicates the difficulties now experienced from want of business and the unprecedented severity of the weather. Those trades affected are engineers, pattern makers, metal planers, iron moulders, carpenters and joiners, the boiler makers are expected to leave their work today. Firms affected Birkenhead Ironworks, Glover Clayton and Co, Britannia Works, Pacific Steam Navigation Co and the Birkenhead Forge.

From the Liverpool Mercury, May 22nd 1879

At the Knutsford Quarter Sessions, the Birkenhead intimidation case. George Lewis a mechanic had been charged with intimidating John Gemmell, [who had worked for the firm for 23 years], to compel him from working for James Taylor and Co, Birkenhead on the 28th April. The prisoner had worked at the firm before the strike, he had been thrown out of work in consequence of the slackness of trade, which resulted in a strike, only a few non-union men were now employed. Mr Lloyd stated that Gemmell had a perfect right to work at Messers Taylor, jury found prisoner guilty and sentenced him to one months imprisonment.

Engineering 1881, Apparatus for taking in, stopping and stowing wire and other rope cables, J. Taylor, Birkenhead

James Taylor and shipbuilding

From the Liverpool Mercury, Friday, August 4, 1882

Proposed new steamer

Proposed Mr J, F, Flannery engineer to give advice on design, nature of proposed boat, Mr Skinner, who is Mr Flannery?,he had built a number of steamers, and had held a special Govt appointment, he had also won a certain prize, when Mr Skinner made inquiry he could not discover a signal ship he had built. He proposed in amendment James Taylor of Liscard, engineer to consult as to the building of the new steamer. Mr Taylor had built 40 ships of different classes and had distinguished himself in Liverpool, Hull, the Clyde and Ireland

From the Liverpool Mercury, Wednesday, September 10, 1884


Iron and Brass Foundry to be let, upon advantageous terms with a large assortment of patterns, fixed plant, Apply [principals only] to J. Taylor, Britannia Engine Works, Birkenhead.

From the Liverpool Mercury July 11th, 1885

Steam Crane for the Japanese Government

The rulers of the empire of Japan, in their very laudable desire to imitate the civilisation of the Western hemisphere, have just had constructed to their orders by Messers James Taylor and Co, at their Britannia Engine Works, Birkenhead, a 60 ton steam fixed crane. The ponderous machine which is to be immediately sent to London for shipment to Yokosuka, near Yokohama, Japan, has been constructed in its most important parts of steel, which gives greater strength to a smaller weight of material than iron. It is stated that this is the first example of this kind of crane that has been manufactured in this country, and it shows several improvements on the cranes which Messers Taylor and Co, have made for various towns in this country, all of which have very fully maintained the high reputation of the Britannia Works for first-class workmanship. The crane will stand upon a very strong foundation of concrete and masonry, and its height above the ground when fixed will be close upon 50 feet. It has a sweep of 46 feet radius, and has a "line" ring with a series of rollers working on a path 27 feet in diameter. The jib is made entirely of steel, in the shape of two cylindrical masts united at the top with rope pulleys, all in one structure. The back stays are also made of steel. The rope to be used is constructed of flexible steel wire, which has several advantages over chain, not the least being that it will not be liable to sudden snapping. The crane is capable of lifting 60 tons as a maximum weight, but can be tested up to a much greater strain. It is provided with four different powers so as to lift quickly lighter loads down to five tons. The machinery by which it is worked is so arranged that it can be attended by one man. The motive power is supplied by a pair of engines of about 15 hp, and so arranged as to operate for hoisting, lowering, or receiving either way at the will of the operator. The crane which has been constructed under the superintendence of Mr S. Haze, naval constructor of the Imperial Japanese Navy, will be erected at its destination by native workmen. There is no doubt that a machine of this character will prove most valuable to shipowners trading in that part of the world, and in case of accidents to vessels will save both time and expense in taking them to other ports to be repaired. It may be added that the steam winch, which had its origin at the Britannia Works, is a present undergoing material improvements at the hands of Mr Taylor, the inventor and patentee. Unfortunately this crane never reached its destination.

From the Liverpool Mercury Dec 18th, 1885

A huge steam crane for Japan

A powerful steam crane has just been completed for the Japanese Government by Messers James Taylor and Co, at their Britannia Engine Works, Birkenhead, the crane has been examined by an inspector of the Japanese Government and other gentlemen, who have expressed their entire satisfaction of the work. The machine is nominally a 60 tons crane, the head of the jib being 54 feet in perpendicular height from the level of the quay wall. The main features of the construction consist of an arrangement by which the centre post common in cranes gives way to a central pin, forged of best hammered scrap iron, only subject to direct upward tension, the whole crane acting as a lever to raise it vertically. The fulcrum is the "live ring" containing 60 rollers running on cast iron and steel roller race, whilst the hoisting is effected by a grooved barrel winding on a flexible steel wire rope, capable of sustaining 120 tons per square inch. The gin block weighs no less than 22 cwt. There are three speeds of lift besides a separate motion for revolving. The pair of engines are diagonal direct-acting, with cylinders 9 inches in diameter and 12 inches stroke. The boiler is a vertical one with cross tubes, and very large in proportion to the work to be performed. Wrought iron and steel predominate in the structure, and are obviously the best materials for framing. The jib is made entirely of steel, and is of the cylindrical type. This crane is a duplicate of one shipped for Japan about four months ago, but which was lost on the voyage. Those manufactured from 1839 to 1843 were principally used for quarries. The steam winch now so extensively used on board vessels also had its origin in the Britannia Works. Messers James Taylor have in course of construction a 120 ton steam crane.

50 ton steam crane on the Yarra bank, Melbourne, Photographer unknown, possibly Daniel McDonald, circa 1870. State Library of Victoria

From the Liverpool Mercury, Jan 19th, 1888

At the Birkenhead Police Court, before Mr Preston, Jane 18th, Messers James Taylor and Co, Britannia Works, where summoned for infringing the Factory and Workshops Act. Mr Richmond Inspector, stated that the proceedings were taken under the 78th section, which made it imperative that in a case of an accident in a factory of workshop, which resulted fatally or caused bodily injury, notice thereof must be forthwith sent to the inspector or the certifying surgeon of the district in which the work was situated. In this case a man named William Purdon was employed at the defendant's works in testing a crane, when, from some reason or other, the jib fell on him and he was killed. The accident had not been reported to him. Mr R. B. Moore for the defendant's admitted a non-compliance of the act which was due to inadvertence on the part of Mr William Taylor [son of James Taylor] manager of the works. Purdon disobeyed Mr Taylor's instructions, and what Mr Taylor foresaw occurred, the jib fell and the man was killed. An extract of the act was hung in the shop but Mr Taylor misread it, that was the reason the accident was not reported. The Britannia Works had been established for 36 years and this was the first accident that had occurred at them. At the Coroner's inquest a verdict of "Accident Death" was returned. Mr W. Taylor said the omission to report the accident arose from him misreading the act, he did not read it carefully and was under the impression that the act only applied to accidents to the permanent plant, and not to anything in process of manufacture. In this case it was a crane being manufactured. The man had no business to be where he was, and was there entirely against his instructions. The jib of the crane fell the man was hit on the head, and killed on the spot. The magistrate ordered the defendant to pay a fine of 10s and costs.

From the Liverpool Mercury, March 3rd 1888

Trial trip of a steamer

The San Fernando, designed and built to the order of Messers Japp and Kirby of Liverpool by Messers James Taylor and Co of Birkenhead, for inland navigation in South America, was tried under steam on Wednesday, the machinery working most satisfactorily. The engines are high pressure, the boiler of the locomotive type, is of very large proportions, arranged to burn wood and is made entirely of steel. The working pressure is 160lbs per square inch, and tested by water to 320lbs. The load draught of water with 10 tons dead weight cargo on board is only 18 inches while the speed is 12 milers per hour, and revolutions of stern paddle wheel 62. The vessel is built of steel in segments for shipment, the length being about 100 ft, by 13ft 6inches breadth, with 4ft depth of hold. She leaves for her destination next week, and has been constructed very quickly, the plans only being approved on the 20th December last.

From the Liverpool Mercury, July 12th 1888

Crane testing.

About 19 years ago Messers James Taylor and Co of Birkenhead, erected for the Harbour Commissioners of Leith a steam crane capable of lifting 50 tons. Finding it necessary to raise much heavier weights, the engineer of the harbour Mr P. Whyte asked Messers Taylor would it be possible to increase the strength of the crane. The firm at once undertook the work, although the crane had been used, so many years, and on Saturday it was successfully tested to 80 tons. Messers Taylor, who were the builders of the first steam crane, are now busy making a 100 ton Derrick crane for the Belfast Harbour Commissioners, which, when completed, will be one of the finest and most powerful cranes in existence.

The Engineer, June 14th, 1889, James Taylor's first and recent crane

From the The Engineer, June 14th, 1889

100 ton Crane Alexandra Graving Dock Belfast

The crane illustrated has been constructed by Mr J. Taylor, Britannia Works, Birkenhead and is now being erected in the Alexandra Graving Dock, Belfast. The crane throughout is built of Siemens-Martin mild steel, and all the gearing consists of steel castings. It stands upon piers of concrete 22 ft high from the ground line, and from the top of the piers to the cross-pin, where the crane turns in the upper end of back stays, is 58 ft higher still. The jib is made double, on the box principle, and stepped into bearings allowing of a sweep of from 30ft to 80ft from the centre of the motion to the drop of the pulley main lifting block, with its maximum working capacity of 100 tons to 50ft radius, and with purchase of three and four sheaves having a flexible steel wire rope 7 inches circumference winding upon large barrels spirally grooved and thus taking on the ropes without lapping. There is also an extended auxiliary purchase for masting and loads up to 25 tons working at an accelerated speed in lifting. The bottom of the lifting block will give a clear hoist of 90ft, above the quay level, with a radius of 50ft and descend 20ft below the quay level.

The crane will be tested up to 150 tons at 50ft radius and when completed will prove one of the most convenient and powerful instruments for marine purposes possessed by any port in the world. The crane is designed by Mr James Taylor, who has been making cranes of similar principle since 1839, when he made his first steam crane for quarry purposes, and at about the same time for several well-known builders and quarry owners of that period in and around Glasgow. In the corner of the engraving will be seen a small illustration of the 10 ton steam crane, as made by Mr Taylor in 1839.

Edinburgh Gazette, June 11th, 1889

Receiving Order Rescinded

James Taylor [lately trading as James Taylor and Co] Deeside, West Kirby, lately residing at Grangefield Oxton, and trading at the Britannia Iron Works, Birkenhead, engineer.

Date of receiving order, Feb 13th, 1889, date of Rescission, May 31st 1889, grounds of rescission, Debtor having complied with the terms of the composition approved by the court 15th April 1889

From the The Dundee Courier & Argus, July 04, 1892

The harbour 70 ton crane

Recently the Harbour Trustees appointed Mr James Taylor, engineer, Birkenhead to inspect the 70 ton crane at the Victoria Dock, with the object of having its lifting power increased to up to 100 tons to meet the requirements of modern engineering and shipbuilding works. Mr Taylor is of the opinion that at a moderate outlay the crane can be altered to safely lift 90 tons and tested to 110 tons. The alterations suggested are the placing of about 25 tons of ballast behind and around the boiler and the lifting of the rollers in order to have them trued up and made of one size in the lathe. It has been pointed out that the breaking strain of the chain is 75 tons, in the event of a fracture in a link the structure would become dangerous, it is therefore suggested that a flexible steel wire rope should be substituted for the chain, the breaking strain of which would be 155 tons, then should it appear to be giving way under a load, there would be ample warning to stop hoisting. As the alterations would give the engines more hoisting to do, they should be overhauled, and the present boiler should be replaced with one 11 feet 6 inches high by 4 feet 6 inches diameter, having at least four cross tubes and constructed for a working pressure of 90 lbs. As the crane is frequently used for masting and coaling vessels by utilising the main gearing and auxiliary crab combined, the crab should be altered to suit both. The alterations are estimated at £1200, the crane will be out of service for about 14 weeks, in the event of the Trustees considering it impracticable to put the carne out of service for such a long period, an alternative scheme, whereby the power of the crane can be increased to 82 tons at a cost of £700, and would be only 5 weeks out of service.

Any information on the family history, background, business history or products of James Taylor would be greatly appreciated. Contact information on main page.

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